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How The Interstate Highway Changed The Trucking Industry

The United States was once connected by a series of country roads, patchwork state highways and rural town and city streets before the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 was signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It made cross-country travel a slow and tedious process, less safe, and terribly inefficient for truck drivers. The Interstate Highway System changed America culturally and brought about a boom in the trucking industry.


President Eisenhower's "grand plan" to create a nationwide and workable Interstate System was at first met with skepticism and resistance from the railroads. Representatives of the railroad companies worried about the competitive edge an interconnected highway system would bring. There were other political and budget obstacles as well as tax increase considerations and industry finagling to consider. All of it seemed destined to put an end to the plan. 

Leaders of the Teamsters Union and truckers, in general, were not about to let it go. It took two years from the time of Eisenhower's initial approach to the idea for an agreement to be reached. A compromise was eventually attained in 1956 and the final highway bill was passed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate with little opposition. President Eisenhower placed his signature on the Federal-Aid Highway Act on June 29 of that year and the Interstate System was launched.


The enormous undertaking had its start on the Mark Twain Expressway in Missouri and that effort was completed on August 16, 1958 to much fanfare and ceremony. Other State Highway Commissions followed and were quickly awarded contracts. The Interstate System was off to a flying start. President Eisenhower was pleased with the swift progress of the project and was quick to appoint a Federal Highway Administrator which he believed would help maintain the pace.

By the time Eisenhower left office in 1961, about 25 percent of the planned 41,000-mile highway system was opened to traffic. The project was proclaimed complete in 1992 with the opening of the twelve-mile engineering wonder of I-70 through Colorado's Glenwood Canyon. The plan expanded and now stretches 47,622 miles with the longest route spanning 3,085.3 miles on I-90 from Seattle to Boston. 

America Drives

America found itself reorganizing out of necessity following the building of the new highway system. Small towns bypassed by the highways were forgotten and new towns near the exits flourished. Motel franchises and truck stop restaurants popped up and ordinary Americans took to the road. The new system was initially met with ambivalence but it didn't take long before America's car culture grew.

The trucking industry and all connected to it benefited most from the highways and it became a familiar and comforting sight to see eighteen-wheelers pulling food and goods across the land. Shipping was revolutionized, the economy was energized, and the romance of driving big rigs across the country's open spaces took hold of the nation. 

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